Monday 18 February 2019

Sophie Donaldson: 'Drama queen Margot Robbie plays Hollywood at its own game'

There is still a dearth of meaty roles for women in Hollywood, although change is afoot, writes Sophie Donaldson

Margot Robbie as a cover girl
Margot Robbie as a cover girl
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Over the last two weeks, most fashion magazines have been busy unveiling their final cover of 2018. Along with some seriously glamorous photography, the December issues have also delivered some memorable lines.

For her Elle cover story, Michelle Obama revealed to her interviewer, Oprah Winfrey, that as a White House resident you are expressly forbidden from opening windows, while Nicole Kidman insisted repeatedly, and comedically, during her Allure interview that she's not a celebrity.

Another famous Australian actress features on the front of the US edition of Harper's Bazaar; actor and producer Margot Robbie looks, as usual, like the glorious lovechild of Michelle Pfeiffer and Grace Kelly, resplendent in Chanel against a pure blue sky. Her sunny disposition darkens ever so slightly in the accompanying interview when discussing her burgeoning production company, LuckyChap Entertainment, and her reasons for starting it. "When I was trying to make my name as an actress, creative roles for women were limited," she says. "I didn't want to pick up another script where I was the wife or the girlfriend - just a catalyst for the male story line. It was uninspiring."

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LuckyChap's aim is to create and develop female-centric productions, a worthy and much-needed cause. There is still a dearth of meaty roles for women in Hollywood, although change is afoot, thanks to the likes of Robbie, Reese Witherspoon, Rose Byrne and Sandra Bullock - all of whom are on a mission to foster female talent through their own production companies.

It's only been five years since Robbie's breakout moment in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. In those five years, she has attained a level of fame that only a tiny cohort of actors will achieve thanks to her role as the wife of Leonard DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort. She may not have had the most lines, or been a lead role, but her turn as the volatile Naomi Lapaglia turned out to be an incredible platform for this aspiring actor. Sure, the full-frontal nudity probably garnered some of the attention, but it's not often that a previously unheard of actor achieves such acclaim with such a small role.

While female actors should absolutely be demanding more varied and creative parts, "wives and girlfriends" shouldn't be dismissed in the process. They may be small roles, and a "catalyst for the male story line" but that doesn't mean that they are unworthy - besides, many female actors have benefited exponentially thanks to these "uninspiring" characters.

Margot Robbie on the set of ‘Mary Queen of Scots’
Margot Robbie on the set of ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

Before playing a mobster girlfriend in cult classic Scarface, Michelle Pfeiffer's most high-profile role was in the epic flop that was Grease 2. Julia Roberts's performance as a prostitute-turned-girlfriend in Pretty Woman elevated her to superstar status.

These women have carved out stellar careers in the entertainment business. As well as the bucketloads of cash, they've also been able to indulge in niche projects thanks to their fame and fortune. They have been afforded the opportunity to play complex, nasty, unlikeable women who don't have to get naked on screen. Moreover many of them have, like Robbie, used their platform to create opportunities for other aspiring actors, writers, directors and producers who may not have got the same leg up from a male-dominated company.

In the same interview, Robbie speaks about her upcoming role as Elizabeth I (beside Saoirse Ronan in the title role) in Mary Queen of Scots), which required three-and-a-half hours in hair and make-up each day to transform her into the decidedly unattractive monarch. It's a far cry from Naomi Lapaglia, but if it wasn't for playing the topless, buxom blonde, it's unlikely she'd be able to sink her teeth into this character.

Nor would she be amassing what will likely be a personal fortune, while building a career that is both creatively fulfilling and lucrative. In an ideal world, she wouldn't have had to disrobe in order to attain all of that - but, one wonders if an unknown male actor would achieve tthe heights Robbie has, playing 'just' the husband who dropped his jocks?

Hollywood is a cruel, fickle and unfair place. Sometimes, it's possible to play it at its own game, and hearteningly, it seems that Robbie is on a winning streak.

Sunday Independent

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